the classic tube sound & the modern tube sound

as a hobbyist since 1965, i have noticed the disappearnace of the classic tube sound, and the emrgence of the modern tube sound. the classic tube sound is exemplified by early conrad johnson amps and preamps, such as the pv 1 and premier 3 and the mv 45, mv 75 and mv 125, audio research sp 3, sp 6, cary audio slp 70 and mac gear of the 60's.

most preamps in production today, manufactured by cary audio, audio research, conrad johnson, art audio, etc., are attempts by designers to produce preamps and amps which are "neutral".

are we better off with the modern tube sound, or do you miss the vintage tube sound ?

which do you prefer and why ?
I have an SP6B and must say that it sounds more like current tube gear. The secret is that the prior original owner modded it death so it would be a wire with gain did I say gain. So it's arguable. Agree with CJ .
I don't miss tubey sound. I have vintage circa 1962 Sherwoods actually the 3 Sherwood 5000 series integrated amps. All stereo all repleat with controls for everything like a rumble and scratch filter.
In any event the one I was after is the S5000 II a 7868 output tube amp. It came with Telefunkens x 5 I think, for preamp functions, which was what they used originally.This one clearly sat around in someones console for a long time. The original S5000 uses EL-84s Mine came with burnt Mullards but they work! The last I got was the S5500 with the Sherwood rebranded ?Sylvania 7591s wich crumbled.
To add to the vintage sound I own JBL Signature series speakers. One is a 1959 C38 the other bought in 1960 because there was little stereo and no money, those are my fathers speakers. About 7 years back I bought a mint driver pair not the cabinets or veneer, of almost the same speaker, but in a vertical enclosure C36 with D-131s instead of D-130s Each pair has the original bullet compression horn 075 tweeters. Every driver is 16 ohm.

They are supremely efficient because no one had much power except the few who had Marantz and the 6L6 and other EL-34 amps. Reportedly they are a mere 95 Db/W/M. I think they "out- loud" my Klipsch LaScalas with a rating of 104DB/W/at 4 feet. Some have said somewhere between 98 and 102 Db which I think must be true.
The extended range main speaker has fabric surrounds and niether pair needs replacement to this day. The tweeters are all "red wax" sealed. Now that's quality control, both the amps and speakers work fine, and are about 50 years old or just shy of 50. How would you like it if your gear went without repair for 50 years and still going.
My current WAF and main listening rigs are all tube except for the TTs or CDPs. They sound really good but nothing like the droopy syupy overwarm Bing Crosby or the voice Frank S. crooning. I am still thrilled by the new tube sound it's very fast and has that famous layered halographic 3d staging and much closer to neutral than not sonics which I think are great.
I've been struggling with this issue for several years. I like the warmth, mid-range focus, and musicality of the older gear. However, I have to admit that, stock, it has problems at either end of the frequency spectrum. Flabby bass, muddy highs. The way I was able to find the best compromise, for me, was to alter the sound of the newer gear with NOS tubes, and to have some of the modifiers who know the gear, modify either newer or older gear in a direction that I like. I've worked with Steve Huntley of Great Northern Sound on ARC gear, and Bill Thalman, of Music Technology, on CJ gear. You can either take older gear and update it, or in some instances, newer gear, and tweak it.

In this process, I've become a bit of a gear collector (though I don't keep everything), and am in the process of rebuilding an updated version of my 80's system (CJ/ARC gear with Dahlquist DQ10's) in addition to my main system.

Here are some things I've tried, and my reactions:

ARC LS15 pre-amp, modified by Huntley, with Bugle Boys - quite nice, but sold in favor of:
ARC SP8 pre-amp, modified by Huntley - I like it, but haven't worked out the tubes. It will go in the new/old system.

ARC VT 50 and VT100 mk iii amps - In the end, I don't like the Russian super tube. The VT100 in the 4 ohm tap was pretty nice, but in the 8 ohm tap was too bright for my taste. (I can't recall what was in the VT50, but it was a bit underpowered for my needs.)

CJ Prem 11 amp, modified by Thalman - my main amp at the moment. Very nice "in-between" sound. Warm, good control in the bass, detailed and very clean top, but not in-your-face.

CJ MV 75a amp, modified by Thalman - sounds like exactly what it is, an MV75 with 80's sound, but with very clean top and bottom. Very musical.

CJ PV5 pre-amp, modified by Thalman - very nice, but not quite broken in, and I think I prefer:
CJ Prem 14 pre-amp, stock, but with Mullard tubes - I've read that this is the last of the "classic" CJ-sound pre-amps. To my ear, it is another fine in-between sounding unit. I intend to have Thalman tweak it, but it's pretty nice right out of the box, with the Mullards. This is the pre-amp I'm using now.

Cary slp98 pre-amp, various tubes - This is supposed to have something of the "good old tube sound." I didn't care for it. Many other people love it. Maybe I couldn't find the right tubes for it. But mine had silver wire in it, and it sounded like it had silver wire in it, and I don't care for that sound.

Cary slp 2002 pre-amp, stock - I preferred this to the 98 (again, in contrast to others' views). To me, it seemed like a good "in-between" pre-amp-- somewhat lush, but with pretty good extension and bass. And you can roll tubes.

VTL ST150 amp, stock - This is a good example of a solid, basically clean sounding piece of gear (especially in triode mode) that is just a little too "neutral" for my taste. The mids are not particularly warm, although preferable to solid state. The highs were slightly "hot" for my taste, though very clean in triode mode. I might have liked it more if I'd rolled tubes, or if I'd updated it. (It was a 2002 model.)

BAT VK31 pre-amp with bugle boy 6922's - I like the non-SE versions of the BAT gear, b/c you can roll tubes. The VK31 is a good tube-rolling platform. I was using this before I started with the CJ gear, and find the CJ gear a bit warmer, but this is a nice piece.

BAT VK75 amp with NOS driver tubes - Good mate for the VK31, for the same reasons. I tried the version with the 6H30 "super tubes," which I found impressive, but, for my taste, too emphatic on the top end detail. This also I was using prior to the CJ gear. Nice piece, but I lean toward the somewhat warmer CJ sound.

Joule LA150 (I think) pre-amp - This is a nice piece of gear, on the warm side, but very revealing in the highs. In the end, the synergy wasn't there, but I can see why people like this pre-amp.

That's been my journey, and, at this moment, I'm basically leaning toward 90's or modified (or both) CJ gear to get the good old tube sound, with reasonable extension in the top, and reasonable control in the bass. But other pieces mentioned above have very nice characteristics that will appeal to others. It's really a question of what you're trying to get out of your source material. I used to like the "wow" factor...musicians in the same room with you, etc., etc. And my system went too far in that direction, meaning it was very, very revealing. The problem with that is that, after a while, you realize that you're not listening to a whole lot of things, because they don't sound good on the system. They weren't recorded, mixed or mastered with extremely revealing systems in mind. (That's a very simple concept that took me years to understand and accept--if a particular recording was mastered using wildly different equipment than that on which I'm trying to play it back, IT VERY POSSIBLY WON'T SOUND LIKE THE ARTISTS WANTED IT TO. And that's MY problem, NOT theirs!)

Then one day I realized that I just didn't like hearing much of anything on my system anymore, and the Great Gear Search began (first as a speaker search, then electronics). That also led me back to vinyl. (I'm still amazed at how many "problems" got solved when I went back to vinyl.)

But, this is enough. Thanks for bringing this up, Mr. Tennis.
I'm not so sure the elimination of shag carpeting should be in this equation.I know,its crazy,just playing the D.A. here,nice post,cheers,Bob
Please disregard my last post,thanks,Bob
My dad owned and operated an electronics repair shop in Brooklyn and was a very strong proponent of tube equipment, mostly because of the ease to repair it ... replace a tube versus attempting to repair a printed board. I have been around tube gear all my life. My first tube systems were strictly hobbyist set-ups. Two that I remember were:

1. a Philco (before being acquired by Ford) tube amplifier and a Voice of Music turntable (crystal cartridge)
2. a Grundig tube amplifier with a Garrard turntable (crystal cartridge)

Speakers were homemade infinite baffle designs with Alnico speakers that my dad had available.

When I started working, I purchased solid state equipment and did not return to tubes until 4 years ago, when I purchased two Prima Luna tube amplifiers.

With all that said, what I liked best about the 50's/60's tube sound was the richness and immediacy of vocals. The sound always had presence. I don't remember being too concerned about accuracy per se, because there was a smoothness to the sound ... music just sounded good, regardless of the type of music. I had no problems using tone controls to even out the sound, that was what they were there for.

Then, I became an educated listener. I trusted wholeheartedly what EPI speakers was saying about not using tone controls and listening for linear sound. Thing is though, I was not always thrilled with the sound coming from my systems. Part of this was changing over from vinyl to CDs, though I was happy to be rid of pops & clicks. The big thing though, I was not getting the richness and warmth from solid state that I had gotten from tubes.

A few years back, I purchased two Prima Luna products ... the PL2 integrated and the PL5 power amp. I got back the richness of sound and almost holographic imaging that I had 35 years previously. What was different was the accuracy of the new tube amps ...they were almost as accurate as any good solid state amp that I had owned. The sound was not only immediate, but instruments were more distinct. Granted, I have comparatively way better speakers and source components than back in the day. But I don't remember the music coming from any amp in my dad's shop, sounding this clear and clean or the background sounding so quiet.

As an aside, I would accept on the face of it, when reviewers would say that a solid state amp sounded tube like. Not really. Even the most tube like sounding solid state amp does not sound like a tube amp.

To answer Mr. Tennis' question ... I prefer the tube sound of today. It is an improvement of what I remember from the older tube amps.

Best regards,

I used to own an ARC SP6a (almost 30 years ago) and thought it was the first step toward a neutral sound. It was a bit dry but clean and very nice.

I recently owned an Audio Note Soro SE and could never put my finger on what it sounded like. It was so neutral and chameleon like, it always served the music, a wonderful amp. I now own an Audio Note Meishu which is probably a bit warm but has such a huge soundstage and is so expressive that I do not mind the bit of 'tubey' sound. It may be the perfect compromise, though the bass is a bit muddy, and I would not want it any looser, so in that regard I need the modern version of tube gear with good extension.

So the bottom line for me is I need the new tube gear, the old stuff with the big bass and rolled off highs is too distracting and the new gear is still wonderful in the midrange so you get the best of both worlds.

I still prefer either to solid state and prefer either of those to digital but none of the above begin to approach live, not even close, so lets keep perspective and enjoy our crazy obsessive hobby!
I was told that the differences may be due to the upgrades in both sources and speakers. Vintage gear was not being fed by high end sources which reproduce much more of the audio spectrum accurately. The speakers many of us are using make a huge difference too. Compare the average speaker today to most of the speakers made in the 60's. We are demanding 20hz to 20khz response as a minimum. Try to get that out of an old pair of Bozaks? The designs had to change/improve.

That old "tubey" sound was due to us listening mainly to really nice warm midrange and not much more.
thanks all.

i am looking for a second preamp.

i am considering a cary slp 98, maybe audio valve eklips and audio note kit l2. i focus on the upper midrange/lower treble region.

ewwedhome, you have provided info that makes may pause before getting too interested in the cary because of its silver wire. thanks for the heads up. i can get a great deal on a new one, but, i don't know if i want to pursue it.

please keep the comments going. i'm learning a lot.

"Cary slp98 pre-amp, various tubes - This is supposed to have something of the "good old tube sound." I didn't care for it. Many other people love it. Maybe I couldn't find the right tubes for it. But mine had silver wire in it, and it sounded like it had silver wire in it, and I don't care for that sound.

Cary slp 2002 pre-amp, stock - I preferred this to the 98 (again, in contrast to others' views). To me, it seemed like a good "in-between" pre-amp-- somewhat lush, but with pretty good extension and bass. And you can roll tubes."

Interesting that we just discussed this the other day. Perhaps your insights on the two pre-amps are correct.